Thanksgiving

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I had little time for cooking last night, after a long afternoon of weeding while partner struggled manfully with putting up a new chicken run.

But our soup and salad meal included celeriac, chard, carrots, lettuce, potatoes and apples, all from the garden, plus pears from a neighbour’s tree. There could have been cobnuts too, if I’d had time to shell them. And the basketful of peppers and tomatoes, pictured above, is still untouched, demanding my attention today.

I know, I know that all this bounty does not come by magic, but after weeks and months of sowing and tending by partner (mostly) and weeding by self (mostly). But at this point in the year, when there is just so much and it is so good, it seems like a miracle, like manna from heaven.

And when I look at the enormous tomato plants, the weighty fruit hanging from them, and remember the tiny seeds they came from, I am amazed, as every year, by the magic that turns one into the other; by nature’s conjuring trick that gives us all this food. It is one of those moments when this lifelong atheist craves religion; I would like there to be someone to thank for the magic and the bounty.

Well a blog is not church, but here I am saying thank you nevertheless. All this food is amazing and I love it. Below is a picture from three years ago, taken in our Manchester kitchen, with bounty from our allotment there. I’ve been looking at pictures (see the Facebook page) from past years, remembering friends and fellow plot-holders, loving it as the start of a journey which brought me here.

Manchester bounty

Midsummer greetings

The sun apparently set half an hour ago on this longest day of the year. I am sitting in my still-light garden, tired after a hard day’s weeding and getting cold but don’t want to go inside just yet.

I can hear a train going past in the distance – last one of the evening I think. The garden is full of birdsong, just amazing. There are blackbirds – one of my favourites – I think there are some nesting behind a huge honeysuckle by the pond – and there are the budgies in an aviary at the hairdressers round the corner, and the rooks still cawing now and then as they settle for the night (see Rooks at bedtime). Behind me, in the house, Italy are playing Ghana in Brazil.

Happy solstice and midsummer to you all. I hope there are birds singing where you are.

All getting quieter now, as the light fades. Bedtime for birds – maybe for me too.

A short break

River at Maintenon

After a ten-day holiday in France, during which we had no internet to speak of, I am writing today to announce another short break. For the next few weeks I am writing up my portfolio to get accreditation as a family mediator and am putting an embargo on blogging until I have broken the back of that writing task.

So I leave you with a couple of the few photos I took on our holiday, from the chateau that is famous for having belonged to Madame de Maintenon, mistress of Louis XIV. I struggle to love French formal gardens, but this is a nice one, not too huge, with lots of water and a beautiful colour scheme in the planting of the beds (we saw even more beautiful plantings in the town of Chartres on another day). It was a nice day out.

The highlight of my visit however – apart from the general niceness of spending time with friends and catching up with family – was on a walk, when we came suddenly close to some deer hiding in a field of oil-seed rape. They turned to check us out, then ran off into the nearby woods, leaping high over the yellow rape so they looked like the model for those roadside signs (seen often in France) telling you there will be leaping deer for the next few miles. I have been as close to very tame deer at Dunham Massey in Cheshire, but these were not tame and they were wonderful.

Almost as wonderful was the cheese shop in the town of Rambouillet, a few miles from where we were staying.

If you are a regular reader you will have noticed that I have been posting less often in the past few months than I did last year. Over time the blog has been many things: a diary to keep friends in touch with our life in the new place; an introduction to rural Lincolnshire for those who don’t know it; a garden, food and cooking journal and a place to muse on connection to place and to people. In recent weeks I have been preoccupied with family issues, which I don’t write about here. And I have been turning over in my mind the question of what the blog is for and where it is going. No answers as yet, but watch this space (though it will just be space for a few weeks!).

p.s. And if you haven’t already visited the Facebook page, please do go and ‘like’ it. There are a few more photos there than appear on the blog posts, if you like that sort of thing.

p.p.s. I have this week been eating and loving the rose and rhubarb jam I wrote about in this post last year. Lovely stuff!

p.p.p.s. So exciting, the beginning of the long, light evenings. We ate out tonight, an unusual treat that was our Christmas present, and driving back after ten saw the last light in the sky – magical.

I shall return. Until then, go well.

Chateau at Maintenon

Pink soup & apples

Ruby chard soup

I’ve made a frugal soup today, with swede and ruby chard from the garden and goose stock from our New Year’s Eve roast goose. So the only bought ingredients (apart from the rather expensive goose, of course) were a bit of local apple juice and some pearled spelt which comes all the way from Somerset.

The new leaves on the over-wintered chard are a very dark purple with bright pink stems. The cooked leaves are green and have leaked their colour into the soup, turning it a vibrant pinky-red.

Still I feel pleased and satisfied, as I always do when I’ve been able to put a meal on the table mainly with things from the garden or leftover from another meal.

After our soup we will have apple and ginger cake, made for a meeting we went to today of a local smallholders’ club. The apples come from a tree in my mother’s garden, are very tasty and have lasted extraordinarily well since they were picked in the autumn, without us storing them particularly carefully.

My mum can’t remember the variety. Bit of a pity that. If she could then I could grow it! I have been poring over apple varieties on the web this past week, since time is running out for getting them to plant by March.

I am having happy dreams of the time when we have enough apples to make juice and dried apples as well as chutney, jelly, bottled apple compote and so on.

Here are the lovely apples with no name.

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Losing the thread

Teasels

Two weeks have drifted by since my post written in the very first hours of 2014, when our New Year guests had gone to bed and I was contemplating the peculiar beauty of a post-dinner-party table. The crumpled napkins, stray unused cutlery, empty glasses gleaming in the last light from sputtering candles, all seemed to hold a faint essence of the people who had been eating and talking there, like ghost or dream-guests come out to play round the festive table while their corporeal selves were peacefully asleep.

This point in the year is always a hiatus, a gap in the normal order of things. Visitors come and go: extended family, friends from other countries, small grandchildren. The house is full of food, the garden is cold and wet. Without our dogs we have been outside even less than usual at this time of year.

And it is outside that makes me write and think, outside where the fields are abstract paintings; where greens and browns are soaked in light and the black of winter hedgerows is deep enough to drown in; where the ploughed earth is rich, scented, edible and my connection to it visceral.

So no outdoors means no blog posts, or not so many at least.

Yesterday I went to Doncaster and took pictures of sunrise and railway tracks on the way, pictures intended for here but I’ve written a different kind of post.

Today’s picture is from a walk of two or three weeks ago and very like lots of photos I took early last year. Passing my blog anniversary and the festive break has left me musing about what this year’s blogging will bring. Will my pictures all be like ones from the same time last year?

I didn’t expect photographs to become such a big part of the blog when I began it in Manchester; but I have loved taking them and looking at them. The landscape always looks like a picture to me now. I wish I could paint it as well as photograph it.

In any case, time to get out more – if only, today, as far as the end of the garden to fetch swede and leeks for supper.

Roses revisited

Rosehips cooking

You may remember my summer post about roses and making rose petal and rhubarb jam. One or two of those beautiful salmon pink roses are still out, not realising winter is nearly upon us. In the meantime I have been making rosehip syrup, which you can see cooking in the photo above.

The rosehips in the saucepan are not from the garden but from the hedges in the field at the end of our road (as featured in View from the dog field and No longer the dog field). They are the hips of the dog rose or rosa canina, orange, fat and glossy; and very abundant this year (see photo in Mellow Frenzy).

During World War II schoolchildren were sent out to pick rosehips in bulk, as part of the government’s attempt to make Britain self sufficient in food. They contain lots of Vitamin C, which was in scarce supply when there were no imported oranges and lemons.

The recipe I used is based on the one given out by the government in those years. You chop the hips, boil and strain them through a jelly bag not once, but twice and then boil up the juice again with sugar.

When I tasted the resulting pink stuff I was transported back to my mother’s kitchen sometime in the 1960s when we were still given it as something medicinal. I plan to pour my 21st century version over ice cream with rose and rhubarb jam.

Vegetable Stories no 2

I am at the kitchen window, looking out on the garden as I tear the fat stalks from a glossy sinkful of chard leaves. Baby carrots and cavalo navone (a buttery Italian turnip, highly recommended) are stewing with oil and honey. Steam from the new potatoes rattles the saucepan lid and makes me think of James Watt watching his mother’s kettle and inventing the steam engine.

For the first time most of this evening’s meal comes from the garden. It’s been thin pickings from this new plot compared to recent years when by July we would have been feasting on allotment produce.

My mouth waters in anticipation of the earthy taste of chard and sweet carrots. I love eating things so soon after they come out of the ground or off the plant.

And as I stand there, something flips me back to a much younger self. It’s London in the early 80s and there I am, head over heels in love with the markets like Pimlico’s Warwick Way and Soho’s Berwick Street. I smile a little ruefully at my smugness in knowing the good places to buy food; but it’s nice to remember that child-like pride and pleasure in negotiating the stalls and heaps of produce, coming home with just what I wanted, lovely fresh things crying out to be cooked.

Back then the idea of growing anything other than a few herbs in pots never crossed my mind. I’ve got to know a different way of living, but colours, textures, tastes, the excitement of food are all the same. And at 53, with my hands in a sink full of green leaves, inside I feel just like myself at 23.

Except of course, back then I thought I’d always live in London…

Early morning beans